Archive for November, 2012

A California Station Tests Out New Biodiesel Made In Part By Algae

By Ashley P. Taylor | November 21, 2012 11:55 am

spacing is important

Fancy putting a bit of the aquatic in your gas tank? Go to California. A new kind of biodiesel, containing 20-percent algae-based fuel, went on sale at gas stations in the San Francisco Bay area last week as part of a one-month pilot program. The fuel emits 10 percent fewer hydrocarbons, 30 percent fewer particulates, and 20 percent less carbon monoxide than other biodiesels according to its producer, Solazyme, reports Yale Environment 360. This is the first time that an algae-based fuel has made it into cars.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Technology

To Salvage One Endangered Fish Species, Scientists Consider Breeding It with Another

By Ashley P. Taylor | November 21, 2012 8:42 am

spacing is importantThe Ash Meadows pupfish, which may soon form a hybrid species
with its cousin, the Devils Hole pupfish.

The Devils Hole pupfish is an endangered species whose only natural habitat is Devils Hole, a hot spring at the bottom of a hole 500-feet deep which leads to limestone caverns. The fish is suited to its niche environment, requiring extremely hot water, low oxygen levels, and a particular limestone ledge to spawn on. If University of Colorado conservation biologists have their way, it could be the subject of a conservation experiment, writes Hillary Rosner at Wired: in order to salvage some of dying species’ genes, they want to mate it with another species, creating a vigorous hybrid that could supplant the original species.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World

Watch This: By Acting as a Plug, This Giant Water Balloon May Keep Subways Dry

By Breanna Draxler | November 20, 2012 11:26 am

Subway flooding was responsible for millions in damage during Hurricane Sandy, but an emerging technology may be able to prevent such soggy situations in the future.

This 32-by-16-foot balloon, featured in the NYTimes recently, can be filled with air or water to seal off a tunnel. The prototype of the inflatable plug has an outer webbing of liquid-crystal polymer fiber; the inside layer uses the same fiber and is reinforced with polyurethane to create a better seal. Researchers say the technology is still a year or two from release. The plug holds promise for preventing future flooding, but at $400,000 a pop, they would be a pretty pricey preventative measure.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology

Homeless Planet Found Wandering Near Earth’s Solar System

By Breanna Draxler | November 17, 2012 8:00 am

planet CFBDSIR2149

An artist’s rendition of planet CFBDSIR2149. The planet’s faint
glow looks blue through an infrared telescope. In visible
light the cold planet would actually appear red.

It’s cold and young and massive. And they call it the wanderer.

Astronomers recently discovered a new planet, named CFBDSIR2149, that is relatively close to our solar system. It is also the first convincing evidence of an accepted but yet unsubstantiated theory of roaming planets.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space

Musical Harmony May Be Hardwired in the Brain

By Lisa Raffensperger | November 16, 2012 1:34 pm

Man with parabolic ear attachments device Anyone who’s ever watched a horror film will know that the sound of two clashing notes evokes a visceral response in most people. Among Western listeners there’s a strong preference for consonance, which exists even from infancy; consonance is the pleasing mixture of two tones, while dissonance is their clashing. (For a good example of both, see this video.) It’s controversial whether the same preferences exist in other cultures, but new research indicates the preferences might be wired in our brains.

The prevailing theory of music in the brain is that dissonant combinations share frequencies that are a bit too close. When these frequencies are perceived by the cochlea, the part of the inner ear that translates sounds to nerve impulses, they can’t be well distinguished. Because similar frequencies are processed next to one another on the cochlea, their nerve signals can interfere with one another. The perception is a grating effect, called “beating.” Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain
MORE ABOUT: audio, brain, harmony, hearing, music, PNAS

Grasshoppers Change Mating Calls to Overcome Urban Noise

By Breanna Draxler | November 16, 2012 12:37 pm

bow-winged grasshopper
Nymph of a Bow-winged Grasshopper (Chorthippus biguttulus) in Hamm, Germany.

Ah, spring, when the meadows come alive with the sweet trilling of grasshopper come-ons. The bow-winged grasshopper attracts females with a very specific song—so specific, in fact, that it is the only thing that distinguishes it from related species in the field. In quiet, Alpine grasslands, this system works like a charm. But as urban development encroaches on more of the grasshopper’s habitat, city noise is getting in the way of the grasshoppers getting it on.

Scientists have already determined that some species of birds, mammals, and frogs change their mating calls in response to urban noise. In a new study in Functional Ecology, scientists report that urban-dwelling grasshoppers, as well, have responded by changing parts of their tune to a higher frequency—one more easily differentiated from traffic. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World

A Virus That Saves Itself By Preventing Bacterial Suicide

By Ashley P. Taylor | November 15, 2012 3:39 pm

spacing is important
Electron micrograph of bacteria-infecting viruses

Bacteria sometimes commit suicide for the good of the group. When a virus infects a bacterium, the cell kills itself rather than allow the virus to replicate inside it and spread to the surrounding bacteria.

The way this works is that when viruses aren’t around, the bacteria manufacture both a bacterial cyanide pill—a toxin molecule they could use to wipe themselves out if they come under attack—and an antitoxin molecule that keeps the toxin in check. When a virus infects the bacterium, the toxin is released, kills the bacterial cell, and prevents the virus from spreading to other cells. It’s bad for the individual bacterial cell but good for the community—and certainly bad for the infecting virus. Now researchers have found a virus that manipulates this mechanism for its own means, saving itself by keeping its host bacteria from cellular suicide.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Living World

Climate Change May Speed Up Satellites

By Breanna Draxler | November 15, 2012 12:30 pm

NASA satellite
NASA’s first geosynchronous satellite.

The build-up of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere is predicted to have a number of effects here on Earth: record high temperatures, unprecedented droughts, and stronger than normal storms. But the effects may also extend to what’s far, far above us. Hydrogeologist Scott K. Johnson writes at Ars Technica that the “non-intuitive” consequences of climate change will be significant, including, potentially, screwing with the paths of satellites circling the Earth. Here’s how:

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Space

Why Don’t Camels Have Diabetes or High Blood Pressure?

By Breanna Draxler | November 14, 2012 1:57 pm

bactrian camels

Camels are known for their humps, which store fat and allow camels to survive long periods of time without food or water. But camels have also developed other traits like insulin resistance and salt tolerance to help them feel more at home in extreme environments. Scientists are now working to determine what these adaptations look like on the genetic level, and they hope their results, published in Nature Communications this week, may eventually shed some light on metabolism-related diseases in humans, too.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Living World

New Skin? A Plastic That Heals Itself, Conducts Electricity, and is Sensitive To Touch

By Ashley P. Taylor | November 13, 2012 3:43 pm

self-healing plastic

Skin is a material with astonishing capabilities: the flexible, waterproof layer constantly regenerates itself, heals itself after scratches and cuts, and, through its nerves, conducts electricity, relaying the sense of touch to the brain. Engineers have long been trying to come up with a synthetic polymer that does all those things, and does them under standard conditions rather than the carefully calibrated set-up of a lab. Now engineers have created a polymer with a combination of skin’s most elusive attributes that no polymer had achieved before: This new material, reported in Nature Nanotechnology, can conduct electricity and, when it is sliced open with a razor, can heal itself at room temperature.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Technology
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